Each ...library has board-approved written policies for the operation of the library, which shall be reviewed and updated at least once every five years or earlier if required by law.
Library policies are enforceable only if they are in writing and adopted formally by the library board in an open meeting. In addition, these policies will be valid only if they meet the four tests of legality, reasonableness, nondiscriminatory application, and measurability. Policies which do not meet these tests could be ruled invalid if challenged in court. Prior to adopting a new policy or when reviewing a current policy, a library board should ask the following questions to test the policy for legal enforceability:
When reviewing and rewriting existing policies, library boards should also ask themselves whether there is still a viable reason to have the policy in the first place. Some boards have eliminated long-standing policies which have outlived their original usefulness to the public library and have opted instead for a more positive image for the library in the community. These include policies such as overdue fines, rental fees, and restrictions of the number of materials borrowed at one time.
In general, policies should be clear and concise, legal, and fair. The library board is responsible for creating such policies, reviewing and revising them, and ultimately enforcing them with the assistance of the library director and staff. While trustees alone have the legal authority to make policy, the process works best when the library director and other key staff are closely involved. The staff has an important role in researching options, drafting recommendations, and presenting them to the board for discussion and approval.
Helpful Tip: It's a good idea to start with a sample and then adapt it to the library's specific needs. Contact the library system for sample policies.
The Board can appoint an ad hoc committee made of some board members, the director, and a staff member or two to work on policies. In some libraries the director develops the policies and the board reviews and approves them. It is important that the director and staff have input since they are familiar with the day-to-day operations of the library.
All policies should include a process by which the board can respond to public comments or complaints. Policies are, in effect, the rules of the library and should not be confused with procedures, which are an administrative function and describe how things are done.
It is a good idea to categorize the library’s policies into internal (such as personnel, business continuity, financial controls, etc.) and external (dealing with the public). These areas can be further broken down to suit the library’s particular organizational structure.
All policies should be able to stand alone, and each policy should be dated with the original adoption and review and/or revision dates. The board’s policies should be recorded, compiled, and organized for ready access in a policy manual. The director and every trustee should have a copy of the policy manual and must be familiar with its contents. A thorough understanding of the library's policies is the foundation from which to adopt new policies, revise old ones, and interpret or defend the library’s rules.
The State Library requires the following policies be adopted by all association and public Libraries at the time of registration:
Helpful Tip: Find a recommended list of policies here.
Yes. Current, board-approved policies are required to be publicly available online (See Standard 11: Provides access to current library information) and the library should also have printed copies available for public distribution. Online and printed policies provide the community with transparency and accountability about library operations.
Contact the library system for samples of policies and assistance with reviewing the policies.
See the chapter on Policies in the Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State for further information and resources.
Helpful Tip: Library Boards are advised to review library policies on a regular basis. It takes time to update a policy. New trustees should be given a copy of all library policies.